May 12, 2011

Conference call: Ranking the hoops leagues

With some key underclassmen having made their decisions to remain in school, everybody and their uncle has weighed in on their projected top 25 for next season.

We laugh at those people for we've undertaken a more difficult task: We're weighing in on the top 12 leagues for next season.

(Actually - cough, cough - we will unveil our early top 25 next week.)

So, go ahead and listen in on our early 2011-12 conference call. All RPI figures are from collegerpi.com.

Rivals.com Top 12 College Basketball Conferences
1. BIG EAST
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 11
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 40
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 1st
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 2nd (average of 2.4)
BUZZ: The league isn't going to be as strong as it was last season, but it once again will be crowded near the top of the standings and Syracuse has legit national title hopes. Pittsburgh received a huge boost when G Ashton Gibbs decided to stay in school. Connecticut is going to slip some without Kemba Walker, but the thought here is that the Huskies will finish better than ninth in the league, which is where they wound up last season. Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova, Cincinnati and Marquette will be looking for finishes in the top half of the league, and Rutgers and St. John's are bringing in highly touted recruiting classes.
2. SEC
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 5
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 23
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 6th
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 5th (average of 4.4)
BUZZ: No SEC West team has made the NCAA tourney in either of the past two seasons, but that should change next season. Alabama should be a preseason top-25 team, Arkansas is receiving a big-time influx of freshman talent and Mississippi State has the pieces in place to contend for a division title assuming those pieces continue to learn to play together. Still, the East still will be the strongest division in the league. Kentucky will head into the season ranked in the national top three, and Vanderbilt returns enough talent to be a top-10 team. Florida has a big-time backcourt and also will be in the preseason top 25. Tennessee and Georgia likely will take at least a half-step back, but the league as a whole should be improved over last season.
3. BIG TEN
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 7
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 29
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 2nd
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 4th (average of 3.8)
BUZZ: Ohio State is the prohibitive favorite to win the league and make a deep NCAA run. (Of course, last year at this time, folks were saying the same things about Michigan State, so ...) Wisconsin is well-coached and always will be in the hunt. Michigan will miss Darius Morris, but still should be quite good. Michigan State should be better because ... well, because the Spartans won't be that ordinary two seasons in a row. Illinois is a team to watch, now that a bunch of underachieving seniors are gone.
4. BIG 12
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 5
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 28
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 3rd
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 3rd (average of 3.4)
BUZZ: It wouldn't be that big a surprise if no league team is in the preseason top 10. Kansas will be going for at least a portion of its eighth consecutive league crown, and F Thomas Robinson must come up big. Texas A&M has talent, but will miss coach Mark Turgeon. Missouri has talent, but is new coach Frank Haith the right guy for the job? Baylor will benefit from the return of F Perry Jones but needs at least one freshman to make a big splash. The Big 12 has numerous teams that should be at least good, but it might not have a great team this time around.
5. ACC
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 4
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 28
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 5th
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 1st (average of 2.2)
BUZZ: Duke and especially North Carolina should be in the national-title hunt next season. The rest of the league? There's a large gap between the top two and the other 10. Florida State will miss Chris Singleton, but if some touted freshmen provide some scoring pop, the Seminoles will be the third-best team in the league. Miami could be interesting; C Reggie Johnson is staying and new coach Jim Larranaga will be an Xs and Os upgrade on the sideline. Virginia should make strides, and Virginia Tech has a solid recruiting class coming in. Still, there are numerous questions about every team in this league except Duke and UNC.
6. PAC-12
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 4
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 24
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 7th
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 6th (average of 5)
BUZZ: Each of the four league teams that made the NCAA tourney suffered a big blow with the departure of at least one key underclassman. Arizona took the biggest hit with the loss of F Derrick Williams. His departure means there is no national title contender in the Pac-12 for next season, but that doesn't mean the league race won't be an entertaining one. California and Oregon should be much-improved, and Stanford could be interesting to watch. Newcomers Colorado and Utah won't add much next season, though Utah has the potential to become a perennial NCAA team, as the Utes were when Rick Majerus was coach.
7. ATLANTIC 10
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 3
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 14
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 9th
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 8th (average of 8.2)
BUZZ: Xavier has become a constant in the top 25, and the decision by G Tu Holloway to stay in school was huge. Under coach Fran Dunphy, Temple has regained its place near the top of the league. Richmond received a pleasant surprise when coach Chris Mooney spurned some bigger programs and decided to stay. Ron Everhart has done an impressive job during his tenure at Duquesne. Still, there should be some unease elsewhere in the league. What has happened to Saint Joseph's? Saint Louis had some off-court issues and suffered mightily because of them last season. Dayton has underachieved the past few seasons; can new coach Archie Miller change that? How long until Charlotte gets back on its feet?
8. WEST COAST
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 1
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 8
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 12th
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 14th (average of 13.8)
BUZZ: Gonzaga again will be favored to win the league, but it won't be easy. BYU moves in from the Mountain West, but the Cougars are going to slide without G Jimmer Fredette. Still, they should contend for a top-three finish. Saint Mary's, San Francisco and Santa Clara also should contend. The league has received multiple NCAA bids in two of the past five seasons, and next season should make it three of six.
9. CONFERENCE USA
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 2
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 7
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 10th
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 10th (average of 10.4)
BUZZ: Memphis has every key player returning from an NCAA team and is adding more talented freshmen. In short, the Tigers should be back at their customary position atop the league. Can UAB, UTEP and Tulsa overcome the loss of some key players? UAB, especially, looks primed to slide. Can Southern Miss continue to get better under Larry Eustachy? What kind of effect will an NCAA probe have on UCF, which has the league's second-best group of freshmen? Will G DeAndre Kane continue to lead a resurgence at Marshall? Generally, the teams at the bottom of the league have been awful and have dragged down the league's RPI. Slowly but surely, though, those programs have improved, and while there won't be more than two NCAA bids out of this league next season, expect even the bottom-feeders to be near .500 overall.
10. COLONIAL
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 3
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 8
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 8th
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: tied for 11th (average of 12)
BUZZ: The CAA received some much-deserved kudos when VCU - which finished fourth in the league in the regular season - advanced to the Final Four. That program received some good news when coach Shaka Smart decided to stay put. Old Dominion will slide some, but George Mason is primed to win 25-plus-games - assuming new coach Paul Hewitt doesn't mess things up. The CAA had six teams in the top 88 of the RPI last season, but each of the league's other six teams were 140th or worse, including four that were 218th or worse.
11. MOUNTAIN WEST
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 3
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 13
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 4th
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 7th (average of 6.8)
BUZZ: The Mountain West looks as if it will take a big step back next season. San Diego State lost a ton of talent off its NCAA tourney team, and BYU and Utah have left the league. Newcomer Boise State was a middling program in the WAC, and it's going to take a while for the Broncos to get up to speed in the Mountain West. New Mexico has a shot at a top-20 finish nationally, but that's it from this league.
12. MISSOURI VALLEY
NCAA TEAMS LAST SEASON: 1
TOTAL NCAA TEAMS, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 6
LAST SEASON'S RPI: 15th
OVERALL RPI, PAST FIVE SEASONS: 9th (average of 9.4)
BUZZ: Wichita State should be the league's standard-bearer next season, and coach Gregg Marshall's decision to stay is one reason. Creighton should be the main contender. Missouri State returns the league's player of the year in F Kyle Weems, but coach Cuonzo Martin is gone, to Tennessee. The MVC has had just one NCAA tourney team in each of the past four seasons, and it wouldn't be a surprise if that is the case again.




 

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